Jowett: REP III 386a-392c — Os poetas

Such, then, I said, are our principles of theology — some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upward, if we mean them to honor the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another.

Yes ; and I think that our principles are right, he said.

But if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons beside these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death ? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him ?

Certainly not, he said.

And can he be fearless of death, or will he choose death in battle rather than defeat and slavery, who believes the world below to be real and terrible ?


Then we must assume a control over the narrators of this class of tales as well as over the others, and beg them not simply to revile, but rather to commend the world below, intimating to them that their descriptions are untrue, and will do harm to our future warriors.

That will be our duty, he said.

Then, I said, we shall have to obliterate many obnoxious passages, beginning with the verses

“I would rather be a serf on the land of a poor and portionless man than rule over all the dead who have come to naught.”

We must also expunge the verse which tells us how Pluto feared

“Lest the mansions grim and squalid which the gods abhor should be seen both of mortals and immortals.”

And again :

“O heavens ! verily in the house of Hades there is soul and ghostly form but no mind at all !”

Again of Tiresias :

“[To him even after death did Persephone grant mind,] that he alone should be wise ; but the other souls are flitting shades.”

Again :

“The soul flying from the limbs had gone to Hades, lamentng her fate, leaving manhood and youth.”

Again :

“And the soul, with shrilling cry, passed like smoke beneath the earth.”


“As bats in hollow of mystic cavern, whenever any of them has dropped out of the string and falls from the rock, fly shrilling and cling to one another, so did they with shrilling cry hold together as they moved.”

And we must beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we strike out these and similar passages, not because they are unpoetical, or unattractive to the popular ear, but because the greater the poetical charm of them, the less are they meet for the ears of boys and men who are meant to be free, and who should fear slavery more than death.


Also we shall have to reject all the terrible and appalling names which describe the world below — Cocytus and Styx, ghosts under the earth, and sapless shades, and any similar words of which the very mention causes a shudder to pass through the inmost soul of him who hears them. I do not say that these horrible stories may not have a use of some kind ; but there is a danger that the nerves of our guardians may be rendered too excitable and effeminate by them.

There is a real danger, he said. Then we must have no more of them.


Another and a nobler strain must be composed and sung by us.


And shall we proceed to get rid of the weepings and wailings of famous men ?

They will go with the rest.

But shall we be right in getting rid of them ? Reflect : our principle is that the good man will not consider death terrible to any other good man who is his comrade.

Yes ; that is our principle.

And therefore he will not sorrow for his departed friend as though he had suffered anything terrible ?

He will not.

Such an one, as we further maintain, is sufficient for himself and his own happiness, and therefore is least in need of other men.

True, he said.

And for this reason the loss of a son or brother, or the deprivation of fortune, is to him of all men least terrible.


And therefore he will be least likely to lament, and will bear with the greatest equanimity any misfortune of this sort which may befall him.

Yes, he will feel such a misfortune far less than another.

Then we shall be right in getting rid of the lamentations of famous men, and making them over to women (and not even to women who are good for anything), or to men of a baser sort, that those who are being educated by us to be the defenders of their country may scorn to do the like.

That will be very right.

Then we will once more entreat Homer and the other poets not to depict Achilles, who is the son of a goddess, first lying on his side, then on his back, and then on his face ; then starting up and sailing in a frenzy along the shores of the barren sea ; now taking the sooty ashes in both his hands and pouring them over his head, or weeping and wailing in the various modes which Homer has delineated. Nor should he describe Priam, the kinsman of the gods, as praying and beseeching,

“Rolling in the dirt, calling each man loudly by his name.”

Still more earnestly will we beg of him at all events not to introduce the gods lamenting and saying,

“Alas ! my misery ! Alas ! that I bore the bravest to my sorrow.”

But if he must introduce the gods, at any rate let him not dare so completely to misrepresent the greatest of the gods, as to make him say —

“O heavens ! with my eyes verily I behold a dear friend of mine chased round and round the city, and my heart is sorrowful.”

Or again :

“Woe is me that I am fated to have Sarpedon, dearest of men to me, subdued at the hands of Patroclus the son of Menoetius.”

For if, my sweet Adeimantus, our youth seriously listen to such unworthy representations of the gods, instead of laughing at them as they ought, hardly will any of them deem that he himself, being but a man, can be dishonored by similar actions ; neither will he rebuke any inclination which may arise in his mind to say and do the like. And instead of having any shame or self-control, he will be always whining and lamenting on slight occasions.

Yes, he said, that is most true.

Yes, I replied ; but that surely is what ought not to be, as the argument has just proved to us ; and by that proof we must abide until it is disproved by a better.

It ought not to be.

Neither ought our guardians to be given to laughter. For a fit of laughter which has been indulged to excess almost always produces a violent reaction.

So I believe.

Then persons of worth, even if only mortal men, must not be represented as overcome by laughter, and still less must such a representation of the gods be allowed.

Still less of the gods, as you say, he replied.

Then we shall not suffer such an expression to be used about the gods as that of Homer when he describes how

“Inextinguishable laughter arose among the blessed gods, when they saw Hephaestus bustling about the mansion.”

On your views, we must not admit them.

On my views, if you like to father them on me ; that we must not admit them is certain.

Again, truth should be highly valued ; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians ; private individuals have no business with them.

Clearly not, he said.

Then if anyone at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons ; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or with their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good. But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind ; and although the rulers have this privilege, for a private man to lie to them in return is to be deemed a more heinous fault than for the patient or the pupil of a gymnasium not to speak the truth about his own bodily illnesses to the physician or to the trainer, or for a sailor not to tell the captain what is happening about the ship and the rest of the crew, and how things are going with himself or his fellow-sailors.

Most true, he said.

If, then, the ruler catches anybody beside himself lying in the State,

“Any of the craftsmen, whether he be priest or physician or carpenter,”

he will punish him for introducing a practice which is equally subversive and destructive of ship or State.

Most certainly, he said, if our idea of the State is ever carried out.

In the next place our youth must be temperate ?


Are not the chief elements of temperance, speaking generally, obedience to commanders and self-control in sensual pleasures ?


Then we shall approve such language as that of Diomede in Homer,

“Friend sit still and obey my word,”

and the verses which follow,

“The Greeks marched breathing prowess,”

“ silent awe of their leaders.”

and other sentiments of the same kind.

We shall.

What of this line,

“O heavy with wine, who hast the eyes of a dog and the heart of a stag,”

and of the words which follow ? Would you say that these, or any similar impertinences which private individuals are supposed to address to their rulers, whether in verse or prose, are well or ill spoken ?

They are ill spoken.

They may very possibly afford some amusement, but they do not conduce to temperance. And therefore they are likely to do harm to our young men — you would agree with me there ?


And then, again, to make the wisest of men say that nothing in his opinion is more glorious than

“When the tables are full of bread and meat, and the cup-bearer carries round wine which he draws from the bowl and pours into the cups ;”

is it fit or conducive to temperance for a young man to hear such words ? or the verse

“The saddest of fates is to die and meet destiny from hunger” ?

What would you say again to the tale of Zeus, who, while other gods and men were asleep and he the only person awake, lay devising plans, but forgot them all in a moment through his lust, and was so completely overcome at the sight of Here that he would not even go into the hut, but wanted to lie with her on the ground, declaring that he had never been in such a state of rapture before, even when they first met one another,

“Without the knowledge of their parents”

or that other tale of how Hephaestus, because of similar goings on, cast a chain around Ares and Aphrodite ?

Indeed, he said, I am strongly of opinion that they ought not to hear that sort of thing.

But any deeds of endurance which are done or told by famous men, these they ought to see and hear ; as, for example, what is said in the verses,

“He smote his breast, and thus reproached his heart,

Endure, my heart ; far worse hast thou endured !”

Certainly, he said.

In the next place, we must not let them be receivers of gifts or lovers of money.

Certainly not.

Neither must we sing to them of

“Gifts persuading gods, and persuading reverend kings.”

Neither is Phoenix, the tutor of Achilles, to be approved or deemed to have given his pupil good counsel when he told him that he should take the gifts of the Greeks and assist them ; but that without a gift he should not lay aside his anger. Neither will we believe or acknowledge Achilles himself to have been such a lover of money that he took Agamemnon’s gifts, or that when he had received payment he restored the dead body of Hector, but that without payment he was unwilling to do so.

Undoubtedly, he said, these are not sentiments which can be approved.

Loving Homer as I do, I hardly like to say that in attributing these feelings to Achilles, or in believing that they are truly attributed to him, he is guilty of downright impiety. As little can I believe the narrative of his insolence to Apollo, where he says,

“Thou hast wronged me, O Far-darter, most abominable of deities. Verily I would be even with thee, if I had only the power ;”

or his insubordination to the river-god, on whose divinity he is ready to lay hands ; or his offerings to the dead Patroclus of his own hair, which had been previously dedicated to the other river-god Spercheius, and that he actually performed this vow ; or that he dragged Hector round the tomb of Patroclus, and slaughtered the captives at the pyre ; of all this I cannot believe that he was guilty, any more than I can allow our citizens to believe that he, the wise Cheiron’s pupil, the son of a goddess and of Peleus who was the gentlest of men and third in descent from Zeus, was so disordered in his wits as to be at one time the slave of two seemingly inconsistent passions, meanness, not untainted by avarice, combined with overweening contempt of gods and men.

You are quite right, he replied.

And let us equally refuse to believe, or allow to be repeated, the tale of Theseus, son of Poseidon, or of Peirithous, son of Zeus, going forth as they did to perpetrate a horrid rape ; or of any other hero or son of a god daring to do such impious and dreadful things as they falsely ascribe to them in our day : and let us further compel the poets to declare either that these acts were done by them, or that they were not the sons of God ; both in the same breath they shall not be permitted to affirm. We will not have them trying to persuade our youth that the gods are the authors of evil, and that heroes are no better than men — sentiments which, as we were saying, are neither pious nor true, for we have already proved that evil cannot come from the gods.

Assuredly not. And, further, they are likely to have a bad effect on those who hear them ; for everybody will begin to excuse his own vices when he is convinced that similar wickednesses are always being perpetrated by

“The kindred of the gods, the relatives of Zeus, whose ancestral altar, the altar of Zeus, is aloft in air on the peak of Ida,”

and who have

“the blood of deities yet flowing in their veins.”

And therefore let us put an end to such tales, lest they engender laxity of morals among the young.

By all means, he replied.

But now that we are determining what classes of subjects are or are not to be spoken of, let us see whether any have been omitted by us. The manner in which gods and demigods and heroes and the world below should be treated has been already laid down.

Very true.

And what shall we say about men ? That is clearly the remaining portion of our subject.

Clearly so.

But we are not in a condition to answer this question at present, my friend.

Why not ?

Because, if I am not mistaken, we shall have to say that about men ; poets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable ; and that injustice is profitable when undetected, but that justice is a man’s own loss and another’s gain — these things we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite.

To be sure we shall, he replied.

But if you admit that I am right in this, then I shall maintain that you have implied the principle for which we have been all along contending.

I grant the truth of your inference.

That such things are or are not to be said about men is a question which we cannot determine until we have discovered what justice is, and how naturally advantageous to the possessor, whether he seem to be just or not.

Most true, he said.